TORONTO -- Jack Eichel and Jimmy Vesey have known each other for a while, growing up together in the Boston area. Now teammates with the Buffalo Sabres, Vesey has noticed a determination from Eichel while working out during the offseason.
"Last year was a little bittersweet for him with that good start but he wants to be in the playoffs," Vesey said Thursday at Smashfest, a pingpong tournament in support of concussion and cancer research hosted by former NHL player Dominic Moore. "You might use the word frustration, but he's a competitor, he's the captain of the team, he was drafted second overall and he wants to be the best and lead the way. I hope I can help him and the team reach the playoffs and see what we can do once we get there."
Buffalo, which has not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011, entered the Christmas break last season fourth in the Eastern Conference at 21-11-5 but fell apart in the second half of the season to finish 33-39-10, 22 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card.
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"I think just the second half of the year left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths," Eichel said in May. "I think guys have a lot to work for. Guys have a lot to prove to themselves next year, myself included."
As a result, the Sabres made changes to their roster this offseason, including acquiring Vesey in a trade with the New York Rangers on July 1 for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Vesey said if Eichel's play this season comes anywhere close to his performance in the gym, the Sabres will be happy with what they get.
"I work out with Jack every day, skating with him three times a week," Vesey said. "I'm not sure how aware of this you guys (in the media) are, but he's just a specimen of an athlete. It maybe shows more true in the gym, not a lot of guys can keep up, but I know he's super excited for this year to help finally push through."
Although Eichel had an NHL career high in goals (28), assists (54) and points (82) in 77 games last season, Buffalo lacked secondary scoring.
Video: Top five plays of 2018-19: Eichel
Vesey, who was third on the Rangers in even-strength goals with 16 last season, is hoping that is where he can help.
"Secondary scoring, I think I can contribute there," Vesey said. "The last two years I've scored a lot of goals at even strength (32) and talking with Buffalo, the coaches and management, that was something they were perhaps lacking. I bring a blue-collar work ethic to the rink, I like to get to the front of the net, and I think that's where a lot of even-strength goals get scored. I'm a competitor and I hope I can be part of bringing this team to the playoffs and beyond."
However, the promise playing alongside the Sabres' young core of Eichel, forwards Sam Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt, and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, is another reason why he was excited to join Buffalo.
"I think we've made some great moves as a team and I'm familiar with some players in the organization like Jack," Vesey said. "I'm really excited for not only what I can bring to the team but also what we can accomplish as a group. Buffalo was right there for so long, they fell off at the end but I think this is a group on the cusp of doing something special and I'm hoping and excited to be a part of that."
In addition to trading for Vesey this offseason, the Sabres acquired defenseman Colin Miller, who had 29 points (three goals, 26 assists) in 65 games last season, in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 29 for a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. They also signed forward Marcus Johansson, who had 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 58 games with the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins last season, to a two-year contract on July 6.
"I'm pretty excited, we got some good players. We made some pretty good moves I think through free agency and trades and it's only made me more excited to get going," said Jeff Skinner, who led the Sabres with 40 goals last season and signed an eight-year contract with Buffalo on June 7. "You get to this point in the summer, things start revving up training-wise and with the new additions, it makes it even more so.
"We should try to build on some of the things we did early last season that paid off. We didn't sustain it long enough and we want to change that. We've made some improvements in the offseason and it's been a good step in the right direction in the offseason, so hopefully we can put it together for a full season now."